New Moms, New Emotions: Defining postpartum depression and the “baby blues”
Having a child can be the most beautiful experience in a woman’s life. It is a moment many forever cherish. Unfortunately, 70 percent of women undergo the “baby blues” after having a baby. Some will even suffer from postpartum depression, a much worse condition following giving birth, presenting harsh symptoms that last significantly longer than the baby blues.
The term “baby blues” refers to the feelings of sadness, anxiety and fatigue that follow childbirth. This is a short-term condition that lasts a few days up to two weeks. Symptoms can include high levels of anxiety, agitation, restlessness and erratic and irrational crying episodes. The main differences between a case of the baby blues and postpartum depression are the severity of the symptoms and the duration of their effects. In cases where postpartum depression is present, the symptoms will typically worsen and last longer than the baby blues. As the symptoms grow more severe, mothers may feel guilty or ashamed.
Postpartum depression can begin in late pregnancy, lasting up to four weeks after giving birth. Approximately 9 to 16 percent of all new mothers experience this condition. Some symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Difficulty being close to or bonding with the baby
- Erratic sleeping behaviors such as sleeping too much or barely sleeping at all
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulty paying attention
- Irrational crying
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of interest in the baby or family
- Fear of self-harm or harming the baby
Women who have experienced previous episodes of postpartum depression are at a much higher risk of experiencing the condition during or after another pregnancy. According to literature provided by Massachusetts General Hospital, women who have experienced postpartum depression previously are 40 percent more likely to experience it when giving birth to future children. Those who have a family history of depression and other mental health disorders who are going through stressful life events are also at a higher risk of developing the condition.
In some of the more severe cases, women experience episodes of postpartum psychosis, a rare condition that usually develops during the initial weeks following childbirth. In these cases, the symptoms are much more severe and typically require medical attention. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include extreme paranoia, audio and visual hallucinations, delusions and disorientation.
What causes postpartum depression?
There is no definite, singular cause of postpartum depression. Physical, emotional and social factors can all play a role in the condition’s development.
- Physical changes: After a woman gives birth, she will experience a large decrease in progesterone and estrogen levels. Other hormones produced by the thyroid also see a sharp decrease. These dramatic decreases in hormone levels leave the woman feeling fatigued and depressed. Changes in blood pressure, blood volume, immune system and metabolism can all play a role in the development of postpartum depression.
- Environmental factors: Influencers such as financial insecurity and lack of support from friends and family have a dramatic influence on a woman’s mental state following her pregnancy.
- Emotional stress: Having a child is hard work, sometimes leading to a lack of self-care and sleep deprivation. When a person is undergoing emotional and physical fatigue and feels overwhelmed, he or she might have trouble handling even the smallest problems. Moms can feel worried about their ability to care for a new life. All of the serious emotional changes and feelings of stress that take place following childbirth can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms.
Postpartum depression can be a severe condition for some and deprive these women from enjoying the initial stages of motherhood. It is important to be vigilant of it symptoms and seek help if they continue or worsen.
Millions of American struggle with depression and it’s important that they know there is help available. Sovereign Health Group offers inpatient and outpatient programs for patients who are struggling with mental health disorders, addiction and dual diagnosis conditions. If you know someone who is in need of mental health treatment, please do not hesitate to call and talk to one of our treatment specialists to find the right treatment option to suit your needs.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer